Anyone who plays or has played a sport understands that pain is an ever-present part of athletic activities. From strenuous training sessions to long game days, athletes are regularly pushing the limits of their physiology.
This accumulation of excessive stress inevitably leads to regular bouts of soreness and aches, sometimes reaching debilitating levels.
While over-the-counter drugs like NSAIDs have historically been the most common approach to dealing with daily discomfort, in recent years a growing number of athletes are opting for a different, more natural solution— CBD.
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a growingly popular compound from the cannabis plant that many athletes, from professionals to weekend warriors, are using as an alternative to traditional pain-relievers.
Here’s a look at why.
CBD: Pain Relief Without the “High”
While cannabis’s therapeutic application as a pain reliever has been long studied and acknowledged, up until recently it’s been the plant’s well-known intoxicating cannabinoid, THC, that has received most of the credit.
CBD is another major active cannabinoid that interacts with the body’s systems to elicit an array of physiological responses, but it doesn’t cause any euphoric side effects or “high.”
Along with THC, it’s among the most abundant of the more than 100 cannabinoids in cannabis, and can be easily extracted from the stalks, flowers, and leaves of both marijuana and hemp.
According to the research done so far, it appears CBD mitigates pain in various ways.
Most of CBD’s pain-relieving effects seem to come from it binding with specific vanilloid receptors (TRPV1) in the brain that are involved in pain. CBD desensitizes these pain receptors, triggering a process that influences the perception of pain and reduces inflammation.
Cannabis use in sports is far from new, but CBD products made from hemp, because they are non-intoxicating, allow athletes to use them to alleviate pain and inflammation before, during, and after practices or workouts without having to worry that their coordination and response time will be impaired because of a “high.”
Advantages of Using CBD Instead of Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Many athletes rely on over-the-counter pain relievers to power through workouts and competitions, but a growing number believe that CBD products can effectively curb the discomfort without the potential long-term side effects of some drug store medications.
Commonly-used over the counter pain relievers, while effective for temporarily alleviating pain and swelling, can come with undesirable side effects, particularly with regular or long-term use.
Athletes’ common go-to drug store pain medicines — nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), naproxen sodium, and acetaminophen — can cause serious liver or kidney damage, disrupt the stomach lining, and raise the odds of a particular type of stroke.
Of course, an athlete who takes over-the-counter medications for a short time isn’t likely to suffer from these adverse effects, but pain for athletes often is not a short-term problem.
No matter the sport, athletes are constantly putting stress on their bodies and fighting through the associated pain to compete. In particular, those who participate in contact sports or are perhaps at the end of their athletic career, find that some type of pain-relieving agent is needed when they wake up every morning.
While federal cannabis law has hindered the collection of data, anecdotal evidence and scientific research so far backs the safety of CBD, even when taken in high amounts.
A 2017 study by a team of German researchers examined the safety profile of CBD and found that the cannabis compound could be taken chronically without any neurological, cardiovascular, psychiatric, or clinical adverse side effects.
In a sign of CBD’s growing acceptance as a safe and effective tool for pain management, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2018 removed CBD from its list of banned substances.
The announcement compelled even more athletes to trade out their once relied on drugstore over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories for CBD products.
Best Types of CBD Products for Pain Control for Athletes
With the demand for CBD higher than ever, athletes looking for a natural way to alleviate discomfort have several types of CBD products to choose from.
And now that hemp is legal under U.S. federal law, athletes across the country can legally buy and use hemp-derived CBD products.
Most athletes’ CBD of choice is CBD vape oil, which when paired with a vaporizer produces CBD-filled clouds that can be inhaled. Because the CBD compound is quickly delivered to the bloodstream through the lungs, vaping CBD is often touted as providing the fastest natural effects.
UFC star Nate Diaz, who helped thrust CBD vape oil into the spotlight in 2016 when he openly took draws from his vaporizer pen following a match.
Athletes also seem to appreciate CBD tinctures, which are CBD-infused liquid extracts that are taken under the tongue. The active compounds diffuse through mucous membranes and start interacting with the body’s receptors in about 60 seconds.
Those curious of CBD often feel more comfortable trying CBD tinctures first, and they typically come in a compact bottle that packs into a gym bag or locker easily.
For targeted muscle and joint relief, CBD topicals like salves and balms are massaged directly into the skin. Rather than make their way to the bloodstream, the active compounds are absorbed through the skin and only interact with nearby receptors.
The market for CBD is booming across the board, and athletes are playing a prominent role in driving it into the mainstream. More athletes than ever have embraced the benefits of cannabis-derived compounds like CBD, and as a whole the athletic community is now more willing to openly discuss the use of the compound and the benefits it provides.